Written By: Fletcher Bonin
In the Spanish language, the word ‘fantasma’ means ghost. The group named ‘Fantasma’ certainly recognizes this translation, as their sound is haunting and ethereal, and certainly otherworldly. Perhaps you’ve seen a recent review on Rainbow Exotic Music about Spoek Mathambo’s latest album ‘Babimo‘. Well, as it happens, Spoek Mathambo is at the center of the Fantasma as well. The group is a South African house collective though their sound is far more complex than can be described by one genre. Under Mathamba’s creative vision, Fantasma combines elements of dance hall, rap, electronica, hip-hop, psych rock and even traditional Zulu maskandi music. Basically, this five member group provides something for anyone and everyone.
Their 2015 release Free Love is a glorious representation of their unique and experimental sound. Each of the thirteen tracks that make up this album is distinct in sound and arrangement. Rhythmic chanting gives way to rapping and then to soaring vocals. Edited sitar plucks are complemented by hand drum accompaniments on some tracks while other backbeats are entirely electronic, bass drops and all. For all the diversity represented on Free Love, the album maintains a unity in its representation of Fantasma’s original and new age sound. Their music is simultaneously ancient and futuristic.
According to the group’s Facebook page, inspiration is drawn from all corners of South Africa, from townships to rural areas and even to open countryside. This diversity is evident on the multilingual tracks of the album. No matter the language, however, each song is fascinating and intriguing. For example, the track ‘Higher Power’ is uplifting and victorious. It is in all ways a rock and roll song during the refrain. But then the guitar power chords melt into smooth plucks as the vocalist begins to spit a quick and powerful rap.
The track ‘Cat and Mouse’ on the other hand is entirely different. This one seems to be of the aforementioned category harkening to Zulu and rural South African music. The vocals are slow, haunting and rhythmic, backed up almost exclusively by a sitar and a pulsating drum circle beat. But on this track too, Fantasma refuses to let us get comfortable in one sound. A rapper jumps in and adds a new texture to the track. My two other favorite tracks are ‘Umoya’ and ‘Fire and Smoke’. If you are looking to add a new sound to your musical repertoire, let Fantasma introduce you to several new styles and sounds.